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Education

Update: Sycamore schools to go fully remote after DeKalb County Health Department urges remote learning for all districts amid virus surge

File photo - After officials from the DeKalb County Health Department recommended all local school districts go to full-remote learning until Jan. 19, some local district officials said Tuesday they plan to follow that advice.
File photo - After officials from the DeKalb County Health Department recommended all local school districts go to full-remote learning until Jan. 19, some local district officials said Tuesday they plan to follow that advice.

After officials from the DeKalb County Health Department recommended all local school districts go to full-remote learning until Jan. 19, some local district officials said Tuesday they plan to follow that advice.

One of those districts is Sycamore District 427, the largest district in the county offering in-person classes to elementary students, and currently battling a COVID-19 outbreak which has recorded 72 cases in students and staff and left more than 400 in quarantine.

Tuesday night, Sycamore Superintendent Steve Wilder wrote in a letter sent to parents at 6:30 p.m., the district will follow the recommendation of the county health department and switch to remote on Nov. 30. High school and middle school students were already remote.

"The large number of positive cases and quarantined individuals in our community and county have resulted in a considerable amount of strain on our students, staff, families, and community," Wilder said in the letter. "I remain committed to opening our schools for in-person learning when it is safe. Part of that safety is being able to appropriately staff our schools. Our schools are a subset of our community. I can’t encourage you enough to follow safety protocols (wearing a face covering and practicing social distancing). It will help us, and it will help each of you."

DeKalb County Health Department administrator Lisa Gonzalez said with the holidays coming up, the recommendation was made to take an "adaptive pause" on in-person learning, meaning a switch to remote. Currently in DeKalb County, Sycamore, Genoa-Kingston, Indian Creek, Hiawatha and Hinckley Big-Rock are all conducting varying levels of in-person learning. DeKalb District 428, the county's largest district, has not returned to an in-person classroom model since the pandemic began.

"We are making the recommendation for local school board consideration due to the increase in local COVID-19 cases, local hospital utilization, the assumption that families will gather with family members outside of their immediate household, and an overall increase risk of transmission in the community," Gonzalez said in an email to the Chronicle.

Every school district fully in the county announced their intention to follow the plan by Tuesday night except for Indian Creek and Genoa-Kingston.

Indian Creek superintendent Chad Willis said his school board will decide it at their meeting on Wednesday. Genoa-Kingston discussed the matter at its meeting Tuesday but called a special meeting at 7:30 a.m. Friday to make a decision.

Hiawatha had been in person but will switch to remote starting Nov. 30. In a letter to parents, Superintendent Jared Poynter said Monday and Tuesday will be used as planning days to prep for remote learning before the Thanksgiving holiday. The district plans on returning Jan. 19 depending on recommendations from the health department.

"We apologize for the inconvenience this puts on our students, families and staff," Poynter said in the letter. "It is our hope that by taking these 'adaptive pauses' as recommended by the health department, we are able to return to in-person instruction on Jan. 19 under the current established safety protocol and Hiawatha Return to Learn Plan."

Hinckley-Big Rock Superintendent Travis McGuire said the district will also be following the recommendation of the health department.

"While the number of students and staff in our schools that have tested positive for COVID-19 is low, we will adhere to the recommendation of the DCHD and move to full-time remote learning beginning on November 30, 2020 and ending on January 15, 2021," superintendent Travis McGuire said in a letter to students. "We are not medical experts and we believe it best to adhere to their recommendations as we trust they understand the needed medical course of action better than we do."

DeKalb had already delayed the return of its elementary students twice and was still remote with the exception of select special needs students.

Over the last seven days, DeKalb has had a positivity rate of 9.1%, Sycamore is at 20.3%, Malta is at 26%, Cortland is at 23.8%, Genoa is at 23.4%, Kingston is at 26.7%, Kirkland is at 17.2%, Shabbona is at 6.5% and Waterman is at 16.7%.

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